Freedom of Speech & Expression

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In the Indian Constitution, the Freedom of Speech and Expression is defined under Article 19(1)(a) which states that ‘All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression’. It is a fundamental right that enables every citizen of India to express their thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and ideas. Freedom of speech and expression catalyzes progress and innovation resulting in the healthy functioning of a democratic society. It promotes an open marketplace of ideas where every citizen is able to express themselves freely. They can voice their views regarding various aspects such as political activities, laws introduced by the government, protests, and many more. In this way, they are able to play their part as a noble citizen of India. This right extends to various mediums, including print media, the Internet, social media platforms, and public gatherings. As freedom of speech & expression is not an absolute right, it is subjected to certain restrictions which are being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India. This article will explore the main elements of freedom of speech and expression, grounds for restrictions, and related case laws. 

Elements of the Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression

  • Only Indian citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression which means individuals belonging to other nations (foreign nationals) do not enjoy this right.
  • This right under Artice 19(1)(a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions regarding any matter and can be done via different types of mediums such as by writing, by printing, by word of mouth, by picture, by movie, etc. 
  • It is not an absolute right as it allows the Government to frame laws imposing certain restrictions. 
  • If the state fails to guarantee this right to all the citizens then it would constitute a violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution.

Certain Aspects related to the Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression involved in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India

  • Freedom of Press
  • Freedom of Commercial Speech
  • Right to Broadcast
  • Right to Information
  • Right to Criticize
  • Right to expression beyond national boundaries
  • Right not to speak or right to silence


Grounds on which the freedom of speech and expression can be restricted are defined under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. It states that “Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with Foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.” These restrictions are crucial to strike a balance between protecting individual rights and preventing abuse of freedom.

  • Security of the State: The Government may restrict speech and expression that jeopardizes the security of the state. The terms security of the state and public order seem to be similar but are different in terms of intensity. The aggravated and serious forms of public disorder refer to the security of the state for instance, rebellion, insurrection, waging war against the state or any part of the state, etc.  
  • Friendly relations with Foreign States: Restrictions may be imposed if an individual’s speech and expression affects negatively India’s friendly relations with other States. This ground for the restriction was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951.
  • Public Order: Speech or expression that poses a clear and imminent threat to public safety or incites violence may be restricted to maintain law and order.
  • Decency and Morality: Restrictions may be imposed to protect public morality and decency. These are defined under Section 292, Section 293, and Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Speech or expression that is considered vulgar, obscene, or offensive, especially in public places, may be subject to limitations to uphold societal standards. 
  • Contempt of court: This expression is defined under Section 2 of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971. Restrictions may be imposed to prevent speech or expression that interferes with administrative justice. Statements or publications that undermine the authority or integrity of the judiciary or obstruct the fair trial process may be subject to legal restrictions. 
  • Defamation: Freedom of speech and expression does not grant the right to defame. False statements, libel, or slander may be legally restricted to prevent harm to an individual’s reputation. In India, Defamation is a serious crime and is defined under Section 499 and Section 500 of the IPC.
  • Incitement to an offence: It restricts or prohibits anyone from making statements that incite or encourage other people to commit an offence. This was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951.
  • Sovereignty and integrity of India: It restricts anyone from making statements that challenge India’s integrity and sovereignty. This ground was added by the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963.

Related Case Laws

  • Romesh Thappar vs. State of Madras (May 26, 1950): In this case, the Supreme Court of India upheld the right to freedom of press as an essential part of democracy. The bench observed, “Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the processes of popular Government, is possible.” 
  • Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala (August 11, 1986): The top court held that “The expulsion of the three children from the school for the reason that because of their conscientiously held religious faith, they do not join the singing of the national anthem in the morning assembly though they do stand up respectfully when the anthem is sung, is a violation of their fundamental right ‘to freedom of conscience and freely to profess, practice and propagate religion’. The Fundamental Rights of the appellants under Arts. 19(l)(a) and 25(l) have been infringed and they are entitled to be protected.” 
  • Odyssey Communications (P) Ltd .v. Lokvidayan Sanghatana (July 19, 1988): In this case, the SC held that “It can no longer be disputed that the right of a citizen to exhibit films on the Doordarshan subject to the terms and conditions to be imposed by the Doordarshan is a part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India which can be curtailed only under circumstances which are set out in clause (2) of Article 19 of the Constitution of India. The right is similar to the right of a citizen to publish his views through any other media such as newspapers, magazines, advertisement hoardings, etc. subject to the terms and conditions of the owners of the media.”
  • S. Rangarajan v.P. Jagjivan Ram (March 30, 1989): In this case, the SC bench held that “Freedom of expression, which is legitimate and constitutionally protected, cannot be held to ransom by an intolerant group of people. The fundamental freedom under Article 19(l)(a) can be reasonably restricted only for the purposes mentioned in Article 19(2 and the restriction must be justified on the anvil of necessity and not the quicksand of convenience or expediency. Open criticism of government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression. We must practice tolerance to the views of others. Intolerance is as much dangerous to democracy as to the person himself.”
  • Union of India v. Assn. for Democratic Reforms (May 02, 2002): In this case, the Supreme Court bench observed that “one-sided information, disinformation, misinformation, and non-information all equally create a uniformed citizenry which makes democracy a farce. Therefore, casting of a vote by misinformed and non-informed voters or a voter having one-sided information only is bound to affect the democracy seriously. Freedom of speech and expression includes the right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions.”


To conclude, the right to freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right that empowers an individual to express their opinions, thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. The scope of this has been expanded to include the freedom of the press, the right to information, including commercial information, the right to quiet, and the right to criticize. While reasonable restrictions are necessary to maintain public order, it is important to safeguard this right and ensure its effective implementation. 

1. Is Freedom of Speech & Expression an absolute right?
2. Which Article of the Indian Constitution deals with the Freedom of Speech & Expression?